WASHINGTON — The House on Friday turned back an unusual coalition of liberals and conservatives and voted down legislation to reject explicitly the indefinite detention of terrorism suspects apprehended on United States soil.
The bill, the National Defense Authorization Act for the fiscal year that begins in October, makes clear that House Republicans — and many Democrats — are opposed to including the Pentagon in the coming era of fiscal austerity. The $642 billion measure, approved 299 to 120, exceeds spending limits enshrined in the Budget Control Act of 2011 by $8 billion.
The measure would thwart the Obama administration’s efforts to close the military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and would impede its ability to carry out the nuclear arms reduction treaty ratified by the Senate in 2010.
In one unexpected twist, Democrats on Friday helped pass a conservative Republican’s amendment that would end the permanent deployment of combat brigades in Europe.
“I’ve always felt there could be cuts in defense that don’t in any way compromise defense capability,” said Representative Mike Coffman, Republican of Colorado and a military veteran, who won passage of the cut. Republicans, he said, “tend to focus on spending as a metric of their commitment to defense, sometimes as the only metric.”
Well before the final vote, the White House promised a veto if the final version maintained the House spending levels and tied President Obama’s hands on detainee and nuclear policies. But House Republicans say that the legislation’s bipartisan support should give them leverage at least to demand the cancellation of next year’s automatic across-the-board spending cuts — known as sequestration — when House and Senate negotiators meet to hash out a compromise.
“At a minimum, it brings sequestration and the reversal of it front and center at the conference,” said Representative Scott Rigell, Republican of Virginia, whose amendment called for the replacement of those defense cuts with cuts to domestic programs.
Democrats said those demands belied the Republicans’ posture of fiscal rectitude. With a budget deficit exceeding $1 trillion, Republicans have taken tax increases and defense cuts off the table, leaving only domestic spending on the chopping block.
“These guys are talking out of both sides of their mouth,” said Representative Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, the ranking Democrat on the Budget Committee. “Despite all their talk of deficit reduction, they’re putting more money into the Pentagon than the Pentagon has asked for.”
The Defense Authorization Act is required each year to set Pentagon policy and spending levels, but House Republicans have turned it into a showcase for their opposition to Obama administration policies.
This year, Democratic leaders had some surprise support. Representative Justin Amash of Michigan, a Tea Party-backed freshman Republican, teamed up with Representative Adam Smith, Democrat of Washington, to declare that terrorism suspects apprehended on United States soil should not be detained indefinitely without charge or trial.
But the left-right coalition fizzled in the face of charges that the two lawmakers were coddling terrorists. On the 238-to-182 vote against the amendment, as many Democrats — 19 — voted against it as Republicans voted for it.
“We’ve got a ways to go still, but there are a lot of Republicans who are listening now,” Mr. Amash said. “I’m confident that most of them are going to go back to their districts, and they are going to get hammered on this issue.”
That left-right coalition did hold when Mr. Coffman proposed to remove the Army’s permanent brigade combat teams stationed in Europe and replace them with a cheaper rotational force, not accompanied by family members, permanent housing and other support. Only 63 Republicans joined him, but that was enough to win approval, given the overwhelming support of Democrats.
But over all, the defense bill proved the power of the Pentagon and its diffuse installations, even as Republicans push the nation’s fiscal straits to the top of the political agenda. An amendment by Representative Barbara Lee, Democrat of California, to reduce spending by $8 billion and stick to statutory spending caps failed, 252 to 170, with 29 Democrats siding with 223 Republicans.
Mr. Rigell conceded that his motivations to block automatic spending cuts were about parochial interests as much as policy.
“Ten cents of every defense dollar in the Pentagon’s budget is spent in Virginia, and 20 percent of all jobs in Virginia are dependent on military spending,” he said.
The White House has raised concerns about several issues but has focused on three: overall spending levels, detainee policy and nuclear weapons deployments. Administration officials say the bill sets up “onerous conditions” on the retirement of nondeployed nuclear weapons and compliance with the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which was ratified in late 2010.
The Senate Armed Services Committee will draft its version of the defense bill next week.